A Bay Area collective is bringing an Indian wedding-style party to the masses — as desi dancing in L.A. is taking off.
When you think of an Indian wedding, what do you picture? The few Indian weddings I’ve been to have been big parties filled with family and food lasting several days. At the Echoplex, there’s a different kind of Indian wedding party taking place – helmed by Non Stop Bhangra, an event collective aiming to bring bhangra, a traditional Punjabi folk music and dance, to a wider audience.
Indian wedding celebrations — of course — vary widely depending on the families’ customs and place of origin. Some parts of India are known to have more elaborate weddings, while others might host more sedated affairs. Oftentimes, there will be a henna night before the actual wedding ceremony, where loved ones gather to get their hands decorated with the famously intricate designs. The bride will generally have both her hands and legs done. There might also be a night devoted to music and dance, and several more religious ceremonies celebrating the couple-to-be.
At a recent Non Stop Bhangra’s Indian wedding party-themed event at the Echoplex, the night began with an open dance floor, Indian snacks and sweets set up at the back end of the venue and a henna artist offering decorative ink for a small fee.
The night centered around bhangra – a music and dance tradition hailing from the North Indian state of Punjab whose dancers traditionally focus on moves that execute grace and power. As the crowd began to trickle in, instructors from the Bay Area Dholrhythms Dance Company led a bhangra performance and dance class.
“Bhangra is a folk dance and it’s all about bringing people together,” says Dholrhythm co-founder Vicki Virk. “Its contagious rhythms are full of joy and really draw people in. I love seeing people smile and be happy when they are dancing.”
Virk and fellow co-founder Suman Raj both grew up with bhangra in their lives. Virk was born in Punjab, and bhangra always held a big presence in her life. She grew up dancing in school cultural shows and at family gatherings.
This year, Non Stop Bhangra, which Virk and Raj also co-founded, marked 15 years of celebrating Punjabi culture. In that time, they’ve hosted over 150 performances in the Bay area, and in the past few years, they have hosted over 25 events in Los Angeles.
Sibling trio Dholnation was one of the main acts at Non Stop Bhangra’s latest Los Angeles event. Photos by Sayer Danforth.
After three successful years hosting events at the Resident in downtown, they were approached by the Echoplex with an invitation to broaden their reach with a bigger venue.
“It’s not a typical bhangra party,” Virk says. “It’s definitely something that brings in a very diverse audience. People from all walks of life come together. It’s very positive. We host the night and welcome people and have them introduce themselves to each other.”
Sure enough, she encouraged audience members to introduce themselves to a new person in the crowd before beginning the bhangra lesson.
I talked to my fellow desi friend Pallavi Kottamasu about her thoughts on the California bhangra dance party. She told me she didn’t even realize the event was called “Crash an Indian Wedding Party.” To her the night seemed like a bhangra party, an evening to dance with her friends. “I can imagine they used that title to reach out to people outside of the Indian community,” Kottamasu told me. “If they called it ‘Bhangra Night,’ plenty of Indians would have shown up, but I’m not sure there would have been as many people who weren’t Indian. And there were quite a few people who weren’t Indian.”\
In San Francisco, where Non Stop Bhangra has a more established presence, they cater to a larger South Asian population and events usually draw crowds of 1,200-1,300 people. Past events have even featured artists like Jassi Sidhu. The 2019 summer event at the Echoplex had approximately 350-400 guests.
That this Bay Area group is moving into L.A. and is being received as well as it is, is perhaps telling of a larger trend — a slow but steady rise in the South Asian presence in Southern California.
Desi dancing is starting to be more widespread in L.A. “So You Think You Can Dance” choreographer Nakul Dev Mahajan offers private lessons and fitness classes in Sherman Oaks and the South Bay. Popular dance group BFunk also offers Bollywood and hip-hop classes in West Hollywood. At the college level, UCLA has a spate of dance teams, including a competitive Indian classical dance group and a Bollywood group. And through “Crash an Indian Wedding Party” Non Stop Bhangra attracts a diverse group of people who otherwise may have never interacted so closely with Indian dance culture.
“We’re focused on growing out in L.A.,” Virk says. “Though we continue to try different things and keep growing, the one thing that remains the same is that at the core of it, Non Stop Bhangra is a dance party. It’s about people coming together, just letting go and dancing non-stop.”